Whiting is my middle name. I learned as a child that the
name came from my great-grandfather, William H. Whiting (1858-1919). My
maternal grandmother Gladys was his only child, so this was a way of carrying
on their family name. William owned a hardware and ship fitting business in
Around 1890 he married Carrie (Caroline) Letitia Yeager
and they had a daughter, my grandmother Gladys. His business was successful
enough to enable him, in 1904, to build an eight-room summer “cottage” in Blue
Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, called “
Wm. H. died in 1919. Five years later, in 1924, this photograph was taken on the porch at Altamont, showing his mother-in-law Rebecca Catherine Isaacs (seated), his widow Carrie, his daughter Gladys, and his newborn granddaughter, my mother Caroline.
My parents didn’t mention William H.’s own ancestry, and I never asked. I only started getting curious about the earlier Whitings after my mother’s death, and my father’s in 2010. As well as reminding me of my own mortality, their deaths piqued my interest in the web of life that links me to them and to our mutual ancestors.
I found ancestry.com tremendously valuable. It combines a terrific tool for managing genealogies with an enormous searchable database of ancestry information. Cleverly, it’s free to create an ancestry.com account and start building your tree; you are only asked to pay when you want to see actual copies of the documents you find. The site also affords an easy mechanism for users to share their family trees. This is helpful, but also hazardous, since many of those trees are bogus.
Ancestry.com had never heard of William H. Whiting, but his parents were easy to find.
We know from
The census records include a lot of interesting
information: In 1870 James is identified as a “Retired Merchant” owning real
property worth $14,000 and personal property worth $60,000 – around $1.2
million in today’s money. It also (incorrectly) shows James as having been born
In 1870 the Whiting household included five other people,
three of whom had the last name Gorsuch: J.H., 26, a male “Clerk in Hardware,”
Katie L., 22, “keeping house,” and Emily, 9 months. In 1880 the Whiting
household is just James, Emily and Wm. H., both James and Wm. H. being
described as “Hardware Merchant”. The Gorsuch’s are the next household listed, and
J.H. does “Galvanizing.” In this entry James Whiting, and his parents (which we
will show is inaccurate with respect to his father), are shown as having been
The family business was apparently started by James, as shown in a series of Baltimore Directories:
An 1849 directory (the first mention I’ve found) shows James living at 73 Park and with a hardware store at 113 Pratt st:
An 1858 directory has a similar listing (with a lot of little changes):
In 1868 the only listing, under “Hardware - Wholesale,” is for “Whiting & Co. 130 w Pratt.”
we see a business listing for “J.A. and A.L. Whiting” (I have no idea who A.L.
was!) at 130 w Pratt, and a new mention of James as a tobacconist, next door at
126 w Pratt. James now appears to be living at 634
The 1880 listing is similar, except “Wm. H. Whiting,” who would then have been about 22, is shown as a clerk at 75 St. Paul, along with John Gorsuch, no doubt the J.H. Gorsuch mentioned in the censuses.
In the 1884 directory “Whiting J. A. & Co. (J. A. Whiting) hardware 130 w Pratt” is still listed, even though James had died the previous year, but there is now also a listing for “Whiting Wm. H. & Co. (Wm. H. Whiting, John H. Gorsuch) hardware 126 w Pratt”. Same in 1885 and 1886.
By 1888 the listing for James’s company has been dropped and William is now in business with Catherine L. Gorsuch, presumably “Katie” from the censuses, now apparently John’s widow:
The key to the Whiting
genealogy turned out to be David Whiting (1751-1815). The Greensboro,
Maryland, history web page shows that David arrived there at least as early
as 1783. Two years later he leased a parcel of land on the banks of the
Before 1800, when David was 49 years old, he married Eunity (or Unity) Purdin. She was half his age, but it was a fruitful marriage, with eight children over the remaining 15 years of David’s life. His last child, James, was born on April 1, 1815, less than two months before David’s death, on May 27. This is all plausible and consistent, but there is a problem: The information in this paragraph, unlike that above and below it, came from other users’ family trees, a distinctly unreliable source. So I needed to find corroboration for this story, especially as it related to James.
The first independent source I found is the 1810 federal
census. It shows David as head of a
· a woman between 26 and 44 years old – presumably Unity, who would have been 34.
· 3 boys under 10 – presumably David, Jr. (1807-), William (1808-1843) and John (1809-).
one girl under 10 – presumably
· a boy and a girl between 10 and 15 – the boy could be Joseph (1800-1849) and the girl might be Mary (1803-), though she would only have been 7.
· two slaves!
James and his brother Samuel (1812-1871) had not yet been born.
The scene then shifts from
The 1840 federal census shows Unity still heading a large household, which could include, from the age ranges, either Samuel or both James and Emily. An 1842 Baltimore city directory shows Unity living on “Pratt st[reet] e[ast] of Caroline”.
By the 1850 federal census (which mercifully starts including
names!) Unity is living in a large household headed by her son Samuel. As an
aside, that household also included two adult children of his brother Joseph,
who the other trees say had died in
All plausible, but I still had a nagging doubt. How could
we be sure that the James Whiting who was William H.’s father was David’s son? I
hoped to tie this down by ordering copies of James’s and William’s death
certificates. James’ arrived first. It showed him having been born in
At long last William H.’s death certificate arrived. It
showed his father’s place of birth as Caroline County, MD –
These Whitings all died in their 60s:
· David in 1815 at 63.
· James in 1883 at 67 of “apoplexy.”
· Wm. H. in 1919 at 60 of a “cerebral hemorrhage.”
· Gladys in 1960 at 68 of a “stroke.”
My mother lived to be 79 and my father to 87, however, so I’m not overly stressed by this. It’s also interesting to note that the causes of death for James, Wm. and Gladys could have been the same condition, with different names in different eras.
Now that we know that David is my
great-great-great-grandfather, why stop there? Where did he come from? Who were
his ancestors? The other family trees on ancestry.com -- and even some
published genealogies -- assert that David was born in
I believe that the mistake arose from a misreading of an
accurate genealogy appearing on pp. 700-701 of The History of Buckland,
1779-1935, by Fannie Shaw Kendrick. This refers to “David, b. Dec. 1751;
The last part of the story is how the Whitings got to
For four generations almost every one of David’s
ancestors lived and died in
Apart from David and his father, who were born there but left, there were only a couple of exceptions:
David’s great-grandfather William Patten died in
David’s great-grandmother Rebecca Parker was
born in the neighboring town of
The community was so close-knit that David’s parents were
second cousins. The extreme insularity of the Billericans makes the wanderings
of Jonathan and his offspring even more striking: Jonathan’s wife died in 1780,
and by the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, David was in
The most interesting generation is that of David’s great-great-grandparents
(the rightmost column above), most of whom were among the earliest
His house looked like this:
The local Indians were friendly at first, but relations
soon soured and Indian raids became a recurrent threat. In
1675 four of the thirteen houses fortified as “garrisons” against Indian raids were
ancestors’: The houses of Jonathan Danforth and James Kidder, across from
one another on
In the northerly part of the town, on the east side of Concord River, lived a number of families, who, through without garrisons and in a time of war, seemed to be under no apprehensions of danger. … The Indians came suddenly upon them in the day time. … [I]t was reported they were on horseback, and from that circumstance ‘were not suspected for Indians, till they surprised the house they came to.’ They entered the house of John Rogers, son of one of the early settlers, about noon, and while from the fatigues of the day he was enjoying repose upon his bed, they discharged one of their arrows, which entered his neck and pierced the jugular vein. Awakened with this sudden and unexpected attack, he started up, seized the arrow, which he forcibly withdrew, and expired with the instrument of death in his hand. A woman being in the chamber threw herself out of the window and, though severely wounded, effected her escape by concealing herself among some flags. A young woman was scalped and left for dead, but survived the painful operation and lived for many years afterwards. A son and daughter of Mr. Rogers were taken prisoners. The family of John Levistone suffered most severely. His mother-in-law and five young children were killed and his eldest daughter captured. Thomas Rogers and his oldest son were killed. … Fifteen persons were killed or taken at this surprisal.
The children of John Rogers who were taken captive were “Daniel,
age 12, and Mercy,” not my ancestor Mary, who was already married to William
Patten. (We aren’t told the name of the woman who was sharing John’s midday
“repose.”) The Indian wars mostly spared
I will conclude with sketches about Samuel Whiting, Jr.
and his parents, but first I’d like to outline where the other
As you might expect, almost every twig of the
Dorcas Chester’s parents were among the first
Jonathan Danforth emigrated from Framlingham,
Elizabeth Poulter emigrated from
William Brown supposedly was born in
Elizabeth Ruggles was supposedly born in
James Kidder emigrated from East Grinstead,
Anna Moore was supposedly born in
Jacob Parker emigrated from
Sarah Wise was supposedly born in
Thomas Patten was born in
Rebecca Paine was born in 1642 in
John Rogers, Jr. was born in
Mary Shed was born in
I stopped pursuing these lines with each immigrant ancestor, and I leave to the reader the pleasure and challenge of tracing their European roots.
Rev. Samuel, Jr.
Samuel Whiting, Jr. was born in 1633 in Skirbeck, near
Samuel Jr. left no writings, but a few gleanings from
Rev. Samuel, Sr.
Through the wonders of the interwebs I stumbled on a charming little volume entitled Memoir of Rev. Samuel Whiting, D.D., and of His Wife, Elizabeth St. John, with References to Some of Their English Ancestors and American Descendants, by William Whiting (a distant cousin). It offers a wealth of information about Samuel, Jr.’s parents, from which I will draw a few nuggets.
Samuel, Sr., was born in 1597, in
1654, June ye 20: Mch grief hath fallen on Mr Whiting and his famile. Ye Indjan maid Ruth, whom they did so mch love, on ye last Lord his daie did run awaie and again join herself to her heathen people of ye wilderness. It be now eight years or thereabout since ye godlie minister took her a gift from her Indjan mother to bring her vpp in ye nurture and admonition of ye Lord. And she hath been these manie years as one of hjs own children, eating of hjs own bread and drinking of his own cupp, receiving godlie instruction at meeting and under his roofe, and learning at his schoole. And she did trulie seem like a fresh blooming wilde flower, wch we so loved to liken her unto. … But she hath gon.
Samuel became an Overseer of Harvard College in 1654. He played a role in many of the religious and political controversies that plagued the early decades of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, most notably a 1671 petition from Samuel Sr., Samuel Jr. and twelve other ministers that successfully urged the Massachusetts General Court to reverse a decision that undermined the separation of church and state.
The best overview of his life is this charming journal entry, made by a parishioner upon Samuel’s death, in 1679:
Decemr ye 12: Yester even died ye dear & reverend Mr Whiting. He hath laboured among vs this fortie yeare and vpwards, and was mch beloved both here and abroad. Hjs godlie temper was seen in ye sweet smile yt he alwaies wore. Hjs learning was great. In ye Hebrewe jt hath been said none on this side of ye water could come vp to him. He greatlie labored for ye children and for manie yeares would haue as manie as he could come to hjs house on everie Lord his day after ye publique worship was over and be catechized and instructed by him in Bible truths. And on week daies he also instructed ye children such as would in Latin and other learning of ye schooles. He was not fond of disputations and wordie wranglings about doctrine but laid down hjs poynts plainlie and then firmlie defended them by ye Scriptures, not taking ye time, as ye manner of some is, to tell how others look vpon ye same and then to tell how false was ye eye with wch they looked. He writ some things yt come out in print and all testified to their being sound in doctrine, liberal in sentiment and plain and practicall.
Mr Whiting was a good liver
saying ye he did not find yt mortifying ye flesh
meant pinching ye stomach. Hjs wife was a right comelie dame and
belonged to a great familie, being Chief lustice
Mr Whiting had a noble garden wherein were delicious fruits and manie good things for kitchen vse. He had a score of appill trees from wch he made delicious cider. And jt hath been said yt an Indjan once coming to hjs house, and Mistress Whiting giving him a drink of ye cider, he did set down ye pot and smaking hjs lipps say yt Adam and Eve were rightlie damned for eating ye appills in ye garden of Eden; they should haue made them into cider.
Mr Whiting was of a quiet temper and not mch giuen to extasies, but yet he would sometimes take a merrie part in pleasant companie. Once coming among a gay partie of young people he kist all ye maides and said yt he felt all ye better for jt And I think they too felt all ye better for jt, for they did hug their armes around hjs neck and kiss him back again right warmlie; they all soe loved him.
For ye few past yeares Mr Whiting hath been mch exercised by sickness. His paynes haue at times been soe greate yt he must needes cry out But he bore all wth godlie patience and had kind wordes for them yt were by him.
He was a man of middle size, dark skin and
straight fine hair. Hjs hands were white and soft, mch like some fine ladys. In
preaching he did not mch exercise hjs bodie. But hjs clear voice and pleasant
way were as potent to hold fast ye thoughts of old and young. He had
great care in his dress while preaching, saying yt his hearers
should not be made to haue their eyes vpon an unseemlie object, lest ye
good instruction might be swallowed vp in disgust. And for a reason like vnto yt
he would also have hjs discourses in milde and winning wordes. In generall ye
sermon would be an hour and a half long and ye long praier another
half houre wch wth ye reading ye scriptures and ye
singing would make ye whole above two hours; ye hour
glass upon ye pulpitt telling ye time. He did not love
sleepers in meeting time and would sometimes stop short in ye exercises
calling pleasantlie to some one to come and wake ye sleepers. And
once of a warm summer afternoon he did take hjs hat from ye peg in ye
beam and put it on, saying he would goe home and feed hjs fowles and come back
again when may be their sleep would be ended, and they readie to hear ye
remainder of his discourse. And at another time he did exclaim yt he
wished for ye Church of
Ye towne was called Lin in compliment to Mr Whiting, who came here from Lin in old Norfolke. Before wee were called Saugust, wch wee did not mch like, some nicknameing vs Sawdust. Most thot ye name a good one tho some would have it yt it was too short But to such wee said then spell it Lynne. Ye change was made fortie yeare and more agone  and none now find fault.
Mr Whiting his funerall js appointed to be on third day next. And ye whole towne is alreadie in an uproar wth preparations. Wee must entertain manie from abroad and greate store of meate and drink will be needful.
Elizabeth St. John
Samuel, Sr.’s wife, Elizabeth
St. John, was born in 1605 in Cayshoe,
Rather than tracing each of these illustrious branches back to ancestors who actually lived in trees I will here bring to a close the story of the magnificent Whitings. One final thought: as between doing great and dangerous things and descending from people who did them I heartily recommend the latter.
Robert Whiting Mack,
January 31, 2011